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TBL for Success

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A friend of mine often observes, "You can't make a green product with a brown company." She applies the admonition equally to products and services, not caring whether the company is a building product manufacturer, commercial contractor or magazine publisher. The point is that companies who claim they make a green product can't truly assert that if the back end of the business is as brown as mud.

  • If you construct buildings that surpass energy consumption standards by wide margins, but don't control your own energy consumption in the office or company vehicles? You're not green.
  • If you manufacture a product made out of recycled material, but don't recycle in your office? You're not green.
  • If you publish magazines, but don't use the benefits of electronic media to share information? You're not green.

Green, though, is often in the eye of the beholder, and our success in building green companies that make green products has to be measured somehow. (And measure we must because we all know that what doesn't get measured doesn't get improved.)

So how do you measure success in greenness?

The answer for business owners comes from the concept of the triple bottom line. The idea is often known as TBL or 3BL, and is an accounting method that measures more than just profit. TBL gives companies a true look at their success and impact in their community.

The three bottom lines are social, economic and environmental. The phrase was coined by John Elkington in his book, "Cannibals with Forks: the Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business." Often people refer to the bottom lines as people, planet and profit, but the main thrust of the idea is that companies need to be accountable to more than just shareholders, who tend to focus solely on profitability. For all of us, the stakeholders in our success are far more numerous than our shareholders.

The construction industry seems to be particularly well suited for implementing this concept. We construct buildings, which, as a group, are among the largest consumers of energy in the country, so we can have a significant and long-lasting impact on the planet segment of the bottom line. What we build and how we build has massive impact on everything from resource extraction to lifetime use and maintenance to disposal. Paying attention to these issues and measuring them from a specific bottom line can show our true impact.

In addition, our buildings provide environments for people that affect their livelihood, health and well-being. A great building can improve people's lives. Our businesses support families and bolster communities. The economic well-being of construction companies has a very positive impact on people. If done poorly, though, it can be as equally detrimental as evidenced by issues of "sick building syndrome" and toxic waste run-off.

But let's not forget the third bottom line-profit. In this market, with these touch economic conditions that include rising material costs, decreased demand and tighter margins, profitability can seem an afterthought to mere survival. But, as I've said earlier, now is the time to drive toward profitability. And the concept of the triple bottom line acknowledges that profitable companies not only return investment for shareholders, but provide a mechanism for an entire community-local, regional, national or world-to be sustained.

We need new ways of measuring our success. TBL provides a comprehensive method for measuring and, therefore, managing a business's overall success and impact.

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